A Short Glossary of Popular Billiards Terms

Different players, households and halls refer to common techniques and equipment by different names. To help standardize the billiards vocabulary, we’ve assembled a small glossary of common terms.

  • Apex: The front ball in the pyramid or rack.
  • Bank shot: When the object ball hits one or more cushions before entering a pocket. It does not qualify as a bank shot if the ball travels adjacent to a rail.
  • Baulk line: A straight line near the bottom of the table, used in snooker.
  • Bed of the table: The inner surface area of the table—the felted area.
  • Break: The opening shot or the total points scored in an inning (snooker).
  • Bridge: An accessory for assisting with long-table shots.
  • Called shot/ball: When a player announces which ball/pocket they are aiming for; the shot is disqualified if the player strikes the wrong ball or pockets in the wrong place.
  • Clean bank: The object ball does not touch any other balls on its way into the pocket.
  • Combination: The cue ball strikes an object ball into another object ball to score either the last contacted or both contacted balls.
  • Cue: The wooden shaft used for striking balls.
  • Cue ball: The white ball directly struck by the cue.
  • Cushion: The rubber borders on the inside of the rails.
  • Dead ball: When the cue ball transfers all speed to its object, causing it to move very little after contact.
  • English: Side spin used to change the roll of the cue or object ball.
  • Feather shot: A shot where the cue ball grazes the object ball.
  • Follow shot: A shot where the cue ball is struck above the center, causing a forward after-spin.
  • Foot of the table: The area of the table where balls are racked at the beginning of a game.
  • Foul: An infraction of the rules—often penalized.
  • Game ball: The shot that wins the game.
  • Head of the table: The area of the table from which the break shot occurs.
  • Jump shot: When the cue ball or object balls comes off the table but remains in the bed.
  • Masse: A significant curve shot made with by elevating the cue and shooting downward.
  • Miscue: A stroke that results in missing the cue ball.
  • Rails: The sides of the table. A rail shot happens when a ball is touching one of the rails.
  • Push shot: The cue tip keeps contact with the cue ball longer than is legal.
  • Split hit: When the first ball of contact cannot be determined.
  • Squeeze shot: A shot made near a crowded pocket.

A Brief History of Billiards

Billiards emerged sometime during the 15th century. It evolved from a Northern European lawn game that resembles modern croquet. The billiards table design borrows many elements from its outdoor roots. For instance, the green felt simulates grass just as the rails, often referred to as banks, act as river banks or perimeters for boxing in the playing field.

To adapt the sport for indoor gameplay, the equipment changed over the years from maces to cues. Maces were wooden sticks with large heads, meant for pushing rather than striking. When the balls would rest against the rails, players would flip the mace over and use the thin end to strike the ball. This technique proved challenging, a reason why players began to use it more frequently in subsequent decades.

The progression towards the modern cue slowly unravelled during the late 1600s. That said, the industrial revolution contributed most to the development of modern billiards equipment.

A Game for the Nobility and Common Folk Alike

The earliest billiards accounts come from the nobility; however, there is substantial evidence that the sport was enjoyed by the peasantry and working class too. In fact, there are references to the sport in various works of art and literature—most notably, Shakespearean plays.  

Interestingly, billiards was the first sport to hold a world championship in 1873. Around this time, the most popular game was English Billiards; Eight-Ball wasn’t invented until the 1900s. Pool games, as we call them today, were popularized in the 20th century as betting games—pool references the pot or ante. Although many forms of billiards involved betting, it was straight billiards and Eight-Ball that kept the name.

The Best Multiplayer Billiards Games

The Best Multiplayer Billiards Games

Popular billiards games like pool and snooker are traditionally for two players. While you can partner up and play doubles, alternating shots makes it difficult to maintain a strategy. Not to mention, when playing with an uneven number of players balancing the teams becomes a challenge.

The following billiards games best suit three-player groups; however, you can add more as needed. Just adjust the rules accordingly.


The objective in cut-throat, known also as battleships, is to keep your appointed balls out of the pockets. Each player must protect a range of balls (i.e. numbers one through five) and shoot to sink or block his or her opponent’s balls instead. The player who owns the last ball on the table wins. The standard rules for scratching and breaking apply.

Alternatively, you can play cut-throat in a more familiar manner and try to sink your range of balls first.


For three-ball, one player racks up three balls into a triangle then counts how many shots it takes to get them into the pockets. The next player does the same. At the end, whoever took the least amount of shots to sink all balls wins the game.

There are many variations of the three-ball game, many include more than just three balls. You can experiment with the rack formation, venturing as far as to separate balls into different groupings. As well, you can play with a rule that requires players to shoot in sequence (i.e. lowest to highest).


Horse borrows ideas from the trick-shot basketball game. Essentially, one player performs an advanced shot and the other players attempt to do it too. When a player fails to execute the shot, he or she receives a letter. Once a player can spell “HORSE,” he or she loses.

Popular Billiards Games to Play with Friends

Popular Billiards Games to Play with Friends

Billiards tables come in many sizes to accommodate different game styles. For instance, snooker uses an 11’ 8.5” x 5’ 10” table. Conversely, pool tables measure in at 9′ x 4’ 5”. Regarding this smaller size, there are two variants—pocketed and pocketless. Pocketed billiards tables suit standard games like pool whereas pocketless tables are strictly for carom.


Carom players earn points by rebounding their appointed cue ball off object balls and their opponent’s cue ball. There are three common carom games:

  • Straight rail—the player continues his or her turn so long as the cue ball contacts both an object ball and the opponent’s cue ball per shot;
  • Balkline—this game introduces a balkline, an invisible line parallel to the end of the table, to limit a player’s ability to pool balls together in a corner and receive endless turns.
  • Three-cushion billiards—the player must contact both aforesaid balls as well as three rails on each turn.

Eight Ball, Nine Ball and Straight Pool

In pool games, players shoot at a shared cue ball to sink object balls on the table. For eight ball, each player takes a class—stripes or solids—and shoots to deplete all balls in that class, excluding the eight ball. The eight ball is the last to go in and wins the game.

Nine ball is similar in that the nine ball is reserved for last. However, players do not shoot at either stripes or solid but rather sink balls in order from lowest to highest. Thus, players work both competitively and together to reach nine.

Straight pool uses a scoring system: the first player to reach 100 points wins. Thus, this game requires constant re-racking throughout the game.  


Snooker uses a cue ball and 22 snooker balls. The snooker balls are different colours rather than numbers and must go into the pockets in a specific order. Players win based on the number of points earned during the game; however, the goal is to “snooker” opposing players by causing them to foul (hit the wrong ball).

Mistakes That Can Damage Your Pool Table’s Rails

Mistakes That Can Damage Your Pool Table’s Rails

Covering and brushing your billiards table are essential maintenance duties. However, preservation requires more than just smart cleaning and storage: you need to treat the table properly when you and others play on it. Here are three common mistakes billiards players make that cause unnecessary wear and tear.

Leaning and Sitting

Far table shots sometimes require players to lay onto the table if there isn’t a bridge available. Although fashionable, putting this kind of pressure onto the table can crack the seams between its slates. Likewise, sitting on the rails can cause them to sag, collapse the cushion or pull from the cloth—all of which diminish the accuracy and reflexivity of the rails.

Lifting from the Rails

Moving a pool table requires it to first be dismantled or hoisted onto a trolley for safe rolling. The slate is far too heavy to lift the table from its rails—they will likely break off or loosen.

Resting Food and Drink

Apart from the increased risk of spillage, leaving drinks on the table can stamp rings onto the wood and other irreparable blemishes. Not to mention, roughly putting a mug or glass down can dent the rails. Simply using coasters is better than nothing.

Similarly, food on the table can leave stains and crumbs. It’s best to set up small tables around the room for players to store their food and drinks. As well, designate other areas (preferably outside) for smoking, as ash and smoke can also injury the table’s wood and cloth.

How to Treat Spills on Your Billiards Table

How to Treat Spills on Your Billiards Table

Billiards tables get dirty with use. Chalk, dust and other debris are unavoidable during gameplay; however, such things are easy to brush off. Conversely, liquids spilled onto the felt—especially sugary and starchy ones like beer, coolers and juices—can ruin your table unless immediately treated.

Best case scenario, an untended spill will result in only a minor stain. Worst case, the liquid will dry, harden and change the feel of the fabric, causing erratic ball behaviour around the area. Even for amateur players, this can seriously degrade the playability of a table and warrant a re-felting.

Treatment for a Fresh Spill

When a drink first spills onto the table, follow the steps below as quickly as you can.

  1. Dab with a dry lint-free cotton cloth. Make sure that the cloth is white to prevent colours from bleeding onto the felt. Do not rub the spot either; this will stretch the fabric and set the stain quicker.
  2. Rinse the cloth with cool water, then wring it out thoroughly before returning to the spot and blotting the stain again. Warm water will set the stain, so watch the temperature! Repeat this step until the stain has been lifted.
  3. Pour white vinegar into a pot of cool water for step two if the stain is particularly tricky or sticky.
  4. Dry the spot adhering to the instructions outlined in step one. You might not be able to capture all moisture from the table, so you’re best to leave the table open to air dry before playing again.

Instead of vinegar, you can also purchase special billiards table cleaners. This cleaner typically comes in a bottle that dispenses foam. Just refrain from using soaps and detergents! These will leave residue and make matters worse.

How to Care for Your Billiards Cue

How to Care for Your Billiards Cue

High-quality billiards cues can cost several hundred dollars. At that price, you’ll want to protect your investment with a rack, case and a few cleaning supplies. Performing general maintenance, as described below, can extend the lifespan of your cue and keep it consistent during gameplay.

Shaping the Tip

The tip is the most important part of the cue. One that is too flat, round or smooth will cause a miscue. The perfect tip is somewhat domed-shaped (i.e. the curvature of a nickel). It will also be rough to allow the chalk to hold and create friction with the cue ball.

Over time, the shape and texture of the tip will change. You can readjust the tip with fine-grade sandpaper or a special tipping kit from your local billiards store.

Cleaning the Shaft

The cue’s shaft loses its slickness with play. For instance, chalk on the hands or dust from the air can affect how it glides. Occasionally wiping the cue shaft with a wet cloth will remove this build up and other oils. Likewise, you can buy special cue cleaner and polish for optimal performance.

Since cues are made from wood, they are susceptible to warping and denting. Thus, you need to keep your cues in an environment with controlled temperature and humidity. Otherwise, store them in a sturdy, well-insulated case.

For dents, you may be able to pull them out with a little heat and friction. Once pulled, it will bubble on the surface, at which point you can sand it down. That said, it’s sometimes best to bring a damaged cue into the shop and have an expert tend to it.

Wrapping the Butt

The butt end of the billiards cue should have some type of linen or rubber wrap to absorb moisture. This wrap can be replaced with something newer and tighter. Some cues are not wrapped, though, in which case the butt should be treated the same as the rest of the shaft.


The Different Types of Billiards Table Covers

A quality billiards table cover is an essential investment. It protects the table’s delicate cloth from spills, sunlight (discolouration) and dust (coarseness). For households with pets—particularly cats—a cover also prevents scratches and pulls from claws scraping along the top.

Billiards table covers come in a variety of sizes and materials. Some are tightly fitted while others loosely drape. Still, if you have an irregular table size you may need to custom order a cover. That said, it largely comes down to preference.

Some materials do present distinct advantages over others. For example, leather trumps vinyl regarding durability. Well-maintained leather can last decades—it only gets softer with time. Leather also breathes easier, allowing the table to regulate its internal temperature better. That said, you’ll save money going with a vinyl cover.

Wooden Tabletop Covers

Converting billiards tables into dining tables has become a trend lately. It appeals to space-conscious people who want to balance function and recreation in their homes.

When picking a conversion cover, it’s important to consider where the hinges are located. Those that fold are easy to assemble but have seams that allow spills to seep onto the table. One-piece covers offer supreme protection; however, they cost more and take up extra space in storage.

Do You Need to Replace Billiards Balls over Time?

Do You Need to Replace Billiards Balls over Time?

Professional billiards balls are extremely durable. In fact, hopping one off the table onto a concrete floor will inflict no damage. This is great because the smallest dent could affect the playability of the ball—how it rolls and ricochets.

Nevertheless, balls sometimes need replacing after considerable use. This is more common among sets made from polyester and acrylic. Aramith balls, manufactured from phenolic resin, are said to last five times longer than other balls.  

Interestingly, cheaper balls threaten the longevity of the billiards cloth. Balls resistant to scratches are smoother, causing less friction and wear along the path it rolls. This is another advantage Aramith balls provide—stronger surfaces.

Replacing a Single Ball

If you lose or damage a billiards ball, it is paramount that you replace it with one of the exact same balance, density and composition. Inconsistencies in said areas cause erratic ball behaviour like wayward rolling and inconsistent banking. That said, replacing a ball in a premium set is sometimes more difficult because each ball is individually calibrated.

Keeping a Pool Ball Set Intact

Pool ball maintenance is an important part of keeping a table clean. That said, regular cleaning will not do much to protect the balls except, perhaps, preserve the gloss. However, this does not mean that you should neglect the set entirely.

It’s best to store your balls safely back in the box or on a rack. Doing so organizes them, making it less likely to lose one during a move or room reconfiguration.

How to Choose a Pool Cue Case

How to Choose a Pool Cue Case

If you’d like to bring your own pool cue (or several) to a bar or billiards hall, you’ll need to protect it with a durable case. Just as cues come in different weights and lengths, you can buy cases in various sizes. Some fit only a single cue while others accommodate more. Likewise, some will hold additional shafts and accessories.

Typically, the case sizing system uses the following structure: number of cues by number of extra shafts. For instance, a 2×2 case holds two cues whereas a 2×3 holds two cues and one extra shaft.

Case Materials

The materials used to make a cue case depends on the type of case it is—hard or soft shell. For instance, a soft-shell case might use nylon or leather whereas a hard-shell case might rely on wood or aluminum.

Soft Shell

Soft-shell cases are highly portable, often large enough for only a single cue. As such, they are lightweight—easy to toss over the shoulder—but provide limited protection. They are too flexible, making them susceptible to breaks and bends. Primarily, soft-shell cases are for scratch prevention and temporary storage.

Hard Shell

Hard-shell cases are reinforced, making them far more damage resistant; they offer both scratch and warp protection. The number of cues a hard-shell case can hold depends on its shape.

  • Tube—tube cases resemble soft-shell cases, focusing on portability by restricting space. The cue section inside is often separated into smaller tubes, keeping the shaft and handle from denting one another in transit. Tube cases come with straps.
  • Box—box cases offer superior protection and storage. They fit the largest number of cues and often come with space for chalk, tips, gloves and other accessories. Moreover, box cases come with handles and latches, meaning they can be locked.

For either a hard or soft-shell case, always inspect the quality of the interior—the fabrics preserving the cue and the fasteners keeping the case together.

When used for permanent storage, also consider the padding. The better the insulation, the less likely the internal temperature is to fluctuate. As with any wooden product, cues can warp when exposed to oscillating temperatures.

Does the Type of Pool Chalk You Use Matter?

Does the Type of Pool Chalk You Use Matter?

In most billiards games, players chalk the cue tip before every shot to increase its friction when striking the ball. The better the friction, the smaller the chance of a miscue (slippage) on off-centred shots.

Billiards chalk comes in various brands and colours, making it difficult to differentiate the quality products. Largely, all chalk comprises the same base materials; however, there are some proprietary ingredients that can affect the density, stickiness and texture.

How Is Chalk Made?

Cue tip chalk differs from what teachers use to write on blackboards in schools. Writing chalk comprises calcium carbonate, whereas cue tip chalk typically uses a silicate base. During the manufacturing process, both silica and an abrasive substance like corundum or aloxite are ground together, then dyed and bound with glue.

Colorado State University Compares Cue Tip Chalk

Colorado State University posted a set of experiments to their billiards department comparing several major chalk brands: pre-flag Master, Master, Lava, Blue Diamond, and Kamui. The experiments were designed to test the following:

  • The amount of skid caused by chalk on the cue ball and how long said residue lasted;
  • How many sidespin shots a single chalking could produce before a miscue.

Interestingly, the study found that all brands performed equally so long as the player chalked before each stroke. Study leaders only noted differences when the cues were not often chalked. In such cases, the denser, dryer varieties lent a small playing advantage.

How to Pick the Best Pool Cue

How to Pick the Perfect Pool Cue

Pool cues come in various sizes and materials, making it difficult to settle upon just one for causal gameplay. But only a few factors differentiate one cue’s handling over another. The length and weight variants affect playability most, but density and grip also play a role

Ornate cues typically do not add much benefit apart from boosting your confidence as a player. A nicer cue may make you feel better, but this is a psychological advantage above all else. If you’d like to personalize your cue without spending a fortune on exotic woods or elaborate patterns, you can customize the grip more affordably. Doing so will fine-tune the cue’s comfortability and accuracy.

Typically, grips come in rubber, linen or leather. The sensation of each feels unique. Linen is slippery whereas leather sticky. Unfortunately, rubber can sometimes feel cheap. When cue shopping, consider things like sweat absorption, traction and durability.

Cue Length and Straightness

The standard length of a one-piece cue is 57 inches. Conversely, two-piece cues start at 58 inches, with the butt and shaft an equal 29 inches. Always measure the length of your cue in relation to the span of your arms. Taller players should look for cues north of 57 inches whereas as youths and shorter players should go south of this number.

Most billiards shops sell cues between 48 and 61 inches. The lower end of this range may suit tall players, too, who need to navigate tight corners. Likewise, some small cues come with extensions for long range shots.

Regardless the length, the pool cue you select needs to be straight. Manufacturers try to produce consistent cues, but some get warped or damaged during shipment. Thus, it’s up to you to test the shaft’s trueness. If you roll the tip along a flat surface while looking down from its butt end, you’ll be able to detect warps and waves easily.

Cue Weight

Most players start with cues around 19 or 20 ounces. However, you can find cues from 18 to over 21 ounces. Heavier cues cause object balls to soar faster and farther. The stroke is often smoother—less of a snapping motion. Light cues have the opposite effect; the striking ball moves fastest.

Many seasoned players prefer heavy cues for breaking and light cues for regular gameplay. That said, beginners may find it easier to spin the cue ball with the added mass of a heavy cue, then slowly shed the ounces with experience.

The small balls in snooker make the standard cue weight too heavy. It’s common for snooker players to use cues as light as 15 ounces.

Tip Diameter

The tip of a cue affects gameplay more than anything else. Most cues are 13 millimeters; however, smaller varieties exist for different styles of billiards. For regular shooting, 13 millimeters is perfect. For breaking or trick shots, tips between 11.75 and 12.5 millimeters may be preferable.

Softer tips allow players to feel the shot more, but it will flatten faster than a hard tip. Besides for breaking, round tips give players the most control.